WASHINGTON, April 15, 2015 – Members of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday debated the effectiveness of the new enforcement policy that the Obama administration ordered for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which include prioritizing the detainment of criminal illegal immigrants.
ICE Director Sarah Saldaña, the hearing’s only witness, said the Department of Homeland Security’s new enforcement and removal policy “places the top priority on national security threats, convicted felons, gang members and illegal entrants apprehended at the border.”
However, Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said the new policy is causing fewer apprehensions of illegal aliens who commit serious crimes.
”As the Obama administration consistently shrinks the universe of criminal and unlawful aliens that [ICE] can remove, ICE apprehensions have decreased by 40 percent since this time last year,” Goodlatte said.
President Barack Obama’s executive order issued last November sets tiers of priority for deportation. According to Saldaña, the top priority is for convicted felons. The second tier is for those convicted of significant or multiple misdemeanors, those who cannot establish that they have been physically present in the U.S. continuously since Jan. 1, 2014, and those who have significantly abused the visa or visa waiver programs. The third priority, she said, is for those who are not criminals but who have failed to abide by a final order of removal issued on or after Jan. 1, 2014.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said the prioritization policy makes sense, because during the Bush administration, “ICE regularly conducted workplace raids,” resulting in the agency arresting and deporting immigrants that “have never been convicted of serious crime….many helping to grow the economy and put food on the table.”
However, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said the president is essentially asking ICE officers “to stop enforcing entire segments of our immigration law.”
“Last year President Obama declared unilaterally almost 5 million illegal aliens would receive deferred action,” as well as benefits, Gowdy said. “Folks may like the president’s policy, they may wish the policy were the law, but one person does not make law in a republic,” Gowdy said.
Other executive actions issued by President Obama last year included an initiative that provides three-year deferrals from enforcement actions, up from two years under the original program, as well as a Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program (DAPA) to provide work permits to illegal immigrants who have been in the country for at least five years and have children. These programs are under a court injunction.
Farm groups are concerned that a number of agricultural workers will apply for the DAPA program and leave for other jobs. Some experts, however, say farmworkers may be reluctant to risk coming forward to apply for temporary legal status.
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